By Lacy Edney, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – For those who want to visit the Cidade Maravilhosa and do more then soak in the beach, there are a host of NGOs (non-profit organizations) that offer volunteer opportunities in many favelas and underprivileged communities. In a city offering a wide variety of beauty, landscapes and culture, there is an equally wide range of needs to be met, and the altruistic traveler can find an use for almost any talent or interest.

Football (soccer) practice in Mangueira favela, Developing Minds Foundation, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Football (soccer) practice in Mangueira favela, photo by Developing Minds Foundation.

Those wanting to get actively involved with helping children may be interested in Developing Minds Foundation, a NGO with programs in Brazil, U.S. and Columbia. In Rio the NGO has a football (soccer) program involving 300 children in the Mangueira favela, which is in partnership with the popular Flamengo professional team.

Former professional football players are volunteering to teach these children who have grown up in Mangueira, which overlooks the Maracanã Stadium. Founder Philippe Houdard explains, “In the favela, there aren’t a whole lot of outlets for kids to have fun.”

The Developing Minds Foundation is also working with 200 children in the Cidade de Deus (City of God) favela, providing access to computers and teaching them how to use the internet and software, to equip them with the necessary skills to help integrate and thrive in the modern digital society.

The NGO makes it a point of hiring locals to have a better connection with the community, but they are also always looking for more help. “Even though favelas still do present some risks, [the process of] pacification has made it a lot easier for us to bring international volunteers into the Mangueira and Cidade de Deus favelas,” remarks Houdard.

Those looking for an inclusive package deal, the Iko Poran program includes twenty hours of Portuguese classes as well as an orientation session for living in Rio de Janeiro. Iko Poran (translates to “All Right!” in the Mbya dialect of the South American Guarani Indians) partners with over forty local NGOs in Rio to help volunteers find a program they are interested in.

Volunteer workers in the City of God favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Volunteer workers in the City of God favela, photo by Developing Minds Foundation.

Even if traveling in Rio for a short period of time, Iko Poran offers volunteer programs that last from seven to fifteen days. Named “spring breaks,” it is an all-inclusive program including lodging, food, transportation, and trips to a few tourist attractions.

Another option for those looking for help figuring out where to begin, is Project Favela, an organization that partners with 35 local NGOs and provides individual placement for volunteers. “We ask a volunteer what their dream volunteer opportunity is, then we ascertain their skills and schooling and find the best fit for them. We have found volunteer opportunities ranging from teaching hip-hop to ping-pong,” explained one of the administrators, Scott Miles.

They provide the NGOs with volunteers as well as a stream of revenue. On average, a two week volunteer experience in Rio, with lodging included, costs around R$2,150.

A part of the price is a donation to the volunteer’s particular project and the amount is presented on the volunteer’s first day on the project. “Approximately half of our volunteers are travelers who arrive in Rio and are moved to do something more with their vacation,” Scott states.

With many opportunities for talents of all kinds, volunteering is an excellent way to experience Brazilian culture in a more profound and meaningful way. Programs like these provide support to ensure volunteers are safe, well taken care of, and able to be involved in a community while visiting.


  1. First of all I really enjoy the RT. I just returned to the USA after 3 months in Brazil, and while I was there I got turned onto you guys and now back here I am still addicted to the goings on of Rio and you are of course my source.

    Wow.. what a suprise when I opened my Facebook and saw a link for this article on your site. The reason I was shocked was because I volunteered for 2 weeks with Project Favela. It made my trip. I didn’t think anything couple top mountain biking in Minas for 3 weeks but my time in Rocinha certainly did. I worked with Scott and he was awesome, not only did he put me in an amazing project he became my go to guy for everything Rio. The non profit I worked in was in Rocinha, I taught classes on graphic design to 15 kids 3 days a week and helped with other classes the project offered as well, I even learned Jiu Jitsu there, well kind of. I will never forget my time in Rocinha and Project Favela and Scott delivered everything they said they would. If you are in Rio doing volunteer work in a favela is a muct do. I saw the real Rio and met the real Cariocas in Rocinha. This took an already amazing vacation and changed into something much much more. LIKE!!! Keep up the great work RT, plan on coming back to Rio in December!!

  2. Hi Lacy,

    This is a great article and thank you for helping promote the wonderful work that is taking place in Rio every day.

    I wanted to let everyone know about some great volunteer opportunities that are also taking place with Community in Action in Rio de Janeiro.

    Community in Action is a grassroots, non-profit and non-governmental organization (NGO) operating in one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela (slum) communities: Complexo de Alemão. Our mission is to empower Rio’s marginalized citizens and promote long-term community transformation by offering vocational and cultural classes for students of all ages, as well as personal development opportunities for international volunteers. We offer volunteer programs for a wide-range of activities including english classes, tutoring services, arts & crafts, capoeira, urban community gardening and so much more!


  3. Hello

    Hi, my name is Josmaydi and i am amazed by Project Favela ..i would love to work with this organization and i would love to help the people in the Favelas of Rio,i have been in love with Brazil since i cant remember ,the culture, the people fascinate me …I am currently in a club called buildOn in my high school and we do similar things that Project Favela do.we do community gardens and play with kids and a lot more.well let me get to my point i would just like to know if 16 year olds, like me, would be able to go to Brazil and volunteer? I would also like to know if you have an office or something like that in Connecticut,U.S, were i could find more information???. Please answer as soon as possible …Have a great day :D


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